conflict resolution

More than one day of thanks

There's a very good chance that your thinking is skewed on the side of non-gratitude. Especially as it relates to this topic of divorce-connected families.

Just like news, a car wreck on the side of the road or gossip, it's the drama, chaos and conflict that catches our eye and rivets our attention in our families.

Our brains are attuned to problems because we're attempting to learn more about either resolving them - or heading them off in the future. But if you're like me and most other humans, there's a good chance your life is mostly focused on problems.

The things yet to be done.

The things done poorly.

The things currently going wrong.

The stuff likely to go wrong.

It's like we're all walking around with not only one piano hanging over our heads by a string, but hundreds of them. How're they're being strung up and by whom, I do not know, but they're there.

And yet...

There are probably many more things going right in your life than there are going wrong.

You've just stopped seeing that.

You have a computer or a mobile phone. You can read. You are currently not under attack by incoming missiles. You are most likely inside, in a building protecting you from the elements. You have food in your cupboard.

However peaceful or not your relationships, you are still connected to people. They're there, which is a lot more than lonely people can say who rarely talk to anyone. Who haven't been touched or smiled at or interacted with in months, maybe even years.

Lest you start feeling yourself traveling down the path of glumness reading through that list, just think: if the opposite of any of those situations above were the case for you, you'd probably give almost anything to trade up to where you are now. Remember what it's like to have a problem so agonizing that you'd practically die to make it go away?

Where you are now is probably pretty damned good, now that you think about it, wouldn't you say?

Spend a second asking yourself:

Who loves you? Who do you love? What brings you joy? What about being yourself do you actually savor and appreciate? Where are your efforts making a difference in the world, even in the tiniest of ways? What have you forgiven recently? How have you changed for the better?

It's easiest to see in hindsight, but life is always continuing on as it is; a rambling, raucous, ever-widening, messy parade of both good and bad. We know it's true, because when we look backwards, we can see that both elements are always there. So why must we be so focused on what's going wrong - when the predictable, the reliable, the nurturing aspects of life and the ones we can count on are also ever present?

A happy day of thanks to you and those you love!

© 2012 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

This old suitcase? Why your old baggage matters more than you realize...

As I begin decluttering my house in preparation for selling it and moving to Oregon, I'm struck by how many things I've hung onto over the years for reasons I can't even remember. The things themselves are tied to memories, dreams, and old priorities.

They're also tied to "issues" I used to have and some I'm still actively working on.

Back when Carol and I (and David, my ex) didn't get along, it used to be so easy to point to their ACTIONS and say this was the reason for me being so hurt, upset or angry. I'd provide all the gory details so my sympathetic listener could see how ANYONE in their right mind would be equally offended.

But privately, I also knew that there was something else at play, in the background.

And that was the amorphous ball of "stuff" we all recognize in our quieter moments. Baggage. Old wounds. Sore spots. Irrational patterns of reactions. That vague, embarrassing jumble we wincingly see before we fall asleep at night, while eating a bowl of cereal alone in the morning; maybe during the mindless hum and rhythm of exercise.

Oh.

That old shit.

The stuff I have no idea how to fix!

The stuff that makes me extra sensitive, insecure, fearful or feel like crap about myself. It's as familiar as the back of your hand. But you'd be loathe to ever admit its existence, except with your closest friends (and even then...).

So much more convenient to just keep pointing the finger elsewhere.

But the truth is, when the other person's behavior continually sends you into overdrive, you have lost control of yourself. That means, there's a good chance something old has been triggered.

Blame the wrong thing and your problems will remain an enigmatic and seemingly impossible source of frustration.

Handle it and watch problems with the other household fade away into something manageable or maybe, just maybe, even something... good.

So, how big is YOUR suitcase? What are you dragging around? Are you willing to try and let go of some of its contents?

Some great places to start:

.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Impossibly High Standards

When it comes to how you expect the other woman to behave, could you meet those same standards?

Never say a single bad word against you. Always do what's best for the children (according to your private interpretation). Never be late (come hell, high water or bad traffic).

Never get angry, be snippy, play the victim, or be a flake.

Life is messy. You solve three or four problems and twelve others line up to take their place.

We all know it: everyone drops the ball on a daily basis.

Doesn't life just seem impossible, in some ways?

And one thing we do that helps is to vent about it. To our friends. To co-workers. To perfect strangers. Yes, even with the kids in our lives.

We connect. We gain support. Comfort and reassurance.

If we're doing it right, we use venting temporarily to release pressure, just like a pressure cooker's bobbing weight lets off extra steam. We let off steam with sympathetic friends so that we can then take action. We take action to hopefully, fingers crossed, fix the problem (while 11 others unravel in the background).

We're trying!

So if you nail the other woman's ass because she has the audacity to vent and present a skewed analysis of "the situation" as you see it, you will always be unhappy.

If you nail the other woman's ass because she dared express one of the "negative" emotions, such as anger, frustration, superiority, competitiveness, self-pity, or vengefulness, while refusing to consider whether she might actually be trying to find a temporary, empowering response to a difficult situation, then your own emotional reactions to her will constantly remain on Red Alert.

If you nail the other woman's ass over mistakes and situations that you would easily excuse in yourself because of the natural messiness of being human, you will constantly feel under siege, as if she's doing these things on purpose to make your life miserable.

She is, after all, just a person.

Like you.

Why is she expected to be perfect -- and you're not?

And what might happen if you held her to the standards you normally apply to yourself and those you love?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

One-Way Compassion

Many problems between houses start because someone is actually trying to solve a problem.

A father desperately misses his kids. A stepmom is trying to find her place in a family with lots of history that came before her. A mom feels disoriented, sharing parental responsibilities with someone she doesn't know.

People struggle with their emotions and act in less than helpful ways -- or behavior they think normally doesn't "apply" to them.

And yet... it does... when they're in pain

It's easy enough for us to "excuse" our behavior, because WE know what's at stake for us, what we're grappling with, the anguish we feel in our hearts.

And so we have compassion for ourselves, we have understanding for the difficult time we're having in our lives.

But what about the other side?

Where does your compassion for them begin and end?

Can you see their pain? Can you reinterpret their angry, manipulative, crazy behavior?

A hint...

If you find yourself swinging back and forth on the pendulum of being a hero or victim/martyr in your situation, your compassion might be on too much of a one-way street.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

What's your foundation?

I took my two big dogs for a walk down at the greenbelt for the first time the other morning.

I had to admit, I was nervous.

New retractable leash. A German Shepherd (Lucy, almost 12, still going strong) who's rarely, but nevertheless potentially fearful and aggressive. A Siberian Husky (Maya, 6, quirky and stubborn) who could easily pull an SUV or two.

We're walking down the trail, it's still cool. Light is filtering through the trees. Birds are singing. Random forest noises abound.

Coming towards us on the path ahead of us, a tall, blond woman and her two dogs are approaching.

Panic!

Her dogs aren't on a leash and they're big too.

Her dogs run straight up to mine while I'm trying to yell to her that I have an unfriendly dog.

Lucy lunges. Maya pulls and my hand burns as I grab the thin wire of her new leash. Lucy and one of the other dogs begin to fight while I'm yelling my head off to stop them.

My two dogs become entangled. Chaos.

The other woman says nothing!

Abruptly, her two dogs simply take off down the path. She passes us and I stand there, baffled.

Not a word. No Sorry, no Excuse Me. Nada.

I punctuate the air with an expletive of frustration as she's walking away.

Then, my irritation growing as I see her back turned towards us, I yell, "You might want to think about putting your dogs on a leash next time!"

To which she yells back, "You might want to think about controlling your dogs!"

We go back and forth a few more times, with her lying to me about the leash laws. Her last words are for me to shut the **** up.

Wow.

I was rattled the entire rest of the walk and had a hard time letting the experience go; returning back to the moment; being there, in the woods, enjoying the present with my dogs.

I am embarrassed that I yelled at a perfect stranger, but I'm also still pissed that she was so blase about our little confrontation - one which could have resulted in an injured dog or two.

Many of you are understandably irritated with the behavior of the mom or stepmom. With your ex, your husband, or your stepkids or kids.

You can point the finger at particular actions and say, "This. Should never have happened."

Friends and family will back you up.

You add your grievance to the list, knowing you're in the right.

But... what could have turned the tide that morning was my foundation.

Had I felt like my "normal" self that day: confident with the dogs, with a mental plan ready for how I was going to handle passersby and loose dogs and road bikers -- stepping off the trail, holding them close to me -- it might have been a different story.

My foundation was off.

Yet I still pushed myself to go, because the dogs needed a walk and I was pressuring myself to try something new.

And when things went awry, I blamed the entire experience on the other woman and her dogs -- big, slobbery, happy fellows who nevertheless shouldn't have run right up to us.

It was only during our walk back to the car that I looked a little deeper at my role....

I begrudgingly admitted I was already a bit off-kilter as we set off from the parking lot. My mind didn't feel clear. I was anxious. Part of me was *expecting* something to go wrong.

And that fearfulness, that mental "static" did contribute to what happened -- like it or not.

When I admitted that to myself, suddenly I found myself able to let the experience go. I didn't need to tell anyone about it to validate my reaction - how in the wrong she clearly was.

I cared more about just having a good day and getting back into a happy, productive mood.

What's your foundation been like when you have a run-in with the other household?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Power of a Name: Just-A-Stepmoms and Bio-Moms

I sometimes like to think of weird things that might have extremely large numbers assigned to them.

…How many breaths each and every creature that’s ever lived has taken, all together.

…How many times the clouds have passed over the sun as someone looked skyward.

…How many times you’ve eaten lunch.

…How many times your name has been called.

When a family dissolves by divorce, we’re typically not expecting to add any extra names to the list of cast members.

When we marry into a new stepfamily, it can feel vaguely insulting to have the name of the ex randomly interjecting itself into our every day.

And yet, there they are: the unwanted. The new woman.

Even the terms we use for each other are loaded:

The bio-mom.

Just the stepmom.

The crazy ex-wife.

The evil stepmother.

Why do we speak this way about each other?

When our aim is to cut the other woman’s legs out from under her before she even gets started, we should be suspicious of our motives.

Do stepmoms ever refer to their husbands as the “bio-father” or is he simply, “the father?” What about their own mothers (unless they were adopted or raised by someone else)?

Are moms aware of the fact that stepmoms are likely performing most of the hands-on tasks to take care of the children? As women, we already know: how can anything be “just...” about that?

ALL of those ex-wives can’t really be crazy. There’s too many of them.

And why are we STILL living in a culture where the cheap and easy trick for creating a villain in a kid’s movie is to give them a stepmom?

So it’s good to ask....

What might we secretly fear about the other woman?

What power are we attributing to her that we want to take away by denigrating her name?

In what ways might we be totally clueless about who she really is?

And isn't it a shame that we don't have a name to use for each other that acknowledges our familial ties to each other -- and allows for the potential growth of love and affection?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Invisible Drivers in Your Life

The other woman is out to get you. Everything she does is motivated by an intense, burning desire to see you fail, to make you suffer. Her life revolves around making you miserable -- and miserable you are, despite yourself.

Although... something about this feeling seems familiar.

You can’t quite put your finger on it....

You take a look around your life and feel small and powerless. Too many demands. Too many people needing your time and attention. Not enough people really looking out for YOU and what you might need. You feel burdened, lonely and somehow... doomed.

Something about that empty, aching feeling in your heart feels familiar.

But you can’t quite put your finger on it.

You’re doing your best to create a connection with your children or stepchildren; with your partner. You meet hurtful or flip responses with warmth and soft eyes. You still go the extra mile with the little things, telling yourself you’re practicing devotion, loyalty, forgiveness.

Lying awake in bed at night when everyone else is asleep, you notice that something about feeling unloved and out of place seems familiar.

But you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Here’s what’s actually happening.

Deep in the back of your mind, beneath your conscious attention, you have messages that you’re repeating to yourself throughout your day.

I’m never really safe; I can’t totally relax or disaster awaits me.

My needs are unimportant because I don’t really matter.

I have to give more than I get because I don’t deserve any better.

But really, what your minds says to you in the form of subconscious beliefs is even worse than that.

And a lot shorter.

And more extreme.

So extreme that, if anyone were to ever stand in front of us and say this stuff to our face, we’d be sorely tempted to deck them!

Nobody really loves me.

Something is seriously wrong with me.

If people really knew who I was, they’d run.

I will always end up being hurt.

Nothing ever goes right.

I suck.

I ruin everything.

These beliefs are formed in the very beginning of our lives because -- as the logic goes -- our parents and primary caregivers are bound to fail us.

They have to. That’s because the perfect human being -- one who can anticipate our every waking need, satisfy our quirky preferences and our personality-driven compulsions and interests -- has not yet been invented.

So we will be disappointed. We will feel misunderstood, unseen, rejected.

Betrayed.

And occasionally, absolutely gutted.

Even though we’re supposedly a few steps above common animals, humans still have an almost overwhelmingly strong desire to belong to the pack.

Try to do it all alone: hunt, kill, eat, rest, repeat -- and you’re likely to not be doing it for very long. There’s safety and survival in numbers.

Which is why it’s better to make ourselves wrong first. We need the pack more than we consciously need ourselves in the very beginning.

And thus, the little gremlins of our subconscious mind are born.

They’re a way for us to contextualize our lives, to explain to ourselves why things go as they do.

They’re a way to create predictability and theoretically, to reduce future upsets and crushing blows. They’re a means of preparing ourselves, by learning from the unwanted experiences of the past.

Only problem is, the ancient wiring system for our Default Disaster Playbook is seriously flawed -- at least when it comes to creating healthy, emotional lives as adults.

We start LIVING by those extreme, distorted mantras as if they are always true -- as if that is “just the way life is...”

And then we make our lives FIT the mantra to prove ourselves right.

Which is why it’s sometimes vaguely satisfying when things go wrong, even if we’re also deeply distressed and would swear on our favorite pets’ grave that we wish it weren’t so!

So what mantras, what secret driving forces, what subconscious beliefs could be running your life?

What themes or patterns seem to be playing themselves out, despite your best efforts to create otherwise?

The good news is, there are effective ways to address and transform those beliefs now that really do work.

You can be worthy, safe, lovable, valued.

You can trust others.

You can create a life of meaning and purpose.

But the first step is to listen closely.

And to tell the truth about what you find.

A little tip for you: if you’re reluctant to (even privately) spell out those outdated, subconscious beliefs in all their extreme glory—you’re still confusing yourself with the belief, as if it’s true!

The first step is to call it as you see it.

Then you can create a plan of action that deals with what is.

What have you discovered about what’s driving your life?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

 

Why Owning Your Own Crap Empowers You

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Most of us are reluctant to turn the flashlight back on ourselves and look at the ways we might have screwed up.

After all, who likes feeling like they’ve messed up?

Like the balance of power has shifted in the story and all of a sudden, instead of the other person being so predictably wrong - it’s now our behavior that’s under scrutiny?

Back during the days when I used to not get along with my ex-husband David and his wife (and my co-author) Carol, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to mentally nail them for things they had done wrong. The slightest little mistake was grounds for a rant with my friends -- or a ruined afternoon, with me stewing in my anger and irritation.

Never mind the fact that there was also a part of me that was secretly enjoying the fact that they might have screwed up, such as getting a pick-up or drop off time mixed up.

And never mind the fact that I also did what I could to subtly help them get it mixed up, while also trying to claim otherwise.

It was childish, ridiculous behavior.

And part of me knew it.

But instead of looking at that reality, I chose instead to focus on them.

And they, in turn, were doing the same thing with me. (Something they fully owned up to later).

After all, how many of us, when we sense someone in our immediate environment out to get us, open our hearts in response?

Maybe if you live on a mountain in Tibet you do, but I doubt the majority of us mere mortals lean that way out of habit.

So there we were, judging the hell out of each other, blowing things out of proportion, taking lots of things personally, making ourselves and everyone else miserable... and the entire time, we’re all still feeling victimized.

Like something was being done TO us!

I have to shake my head and laugh at this now, because it seems so clearly illogical and insane.

I can’t speak for David or Carol, but when I had my first inklings of owning my own shit, it was like a blast of light shining through the curtains.

Once I started to see how I was fully participating in this impossible, never-ending, score-keeping behavior, I couldn’t STOP seeing it in all my actions.

And I suspected that they probably had inklings of this as well.

We all seemed so hopelessly, helplessly blind.

But we were not helpless.

Admitting to myself that I was deliberately trying to set them up, trying to make them fail, trying to make myself out to be the well-intentioned, blameless victim -- even if it meant occasionally putting the kids in the middle as leverage was life-changing.

I could throw up my hands and claim my innocence all I wanted in public, but now that I knew the truth of what I was doing, I could never go back and pretend otherwise to myself again.

The bottom line was....

Was it worth it?

Was it worth what I was doing to the kids to feel temporarily superior to David and Carol? To feel like the better, more loving, devoted parent? (One who still uses her kids as “leverage?” Right....) To milk sympathy from friends and family about how unfair it was, how stressful and awful their “two against my one” was?

To self-righteously funnel my leftover anger and grief about our marriage into something tangible, something that gave me the feeling that at least something was actually moving? Something was actually happening?

Well.... No.

It wasn’t.

It wasn’t worth all the stress. It wasn’t worth how hard my heart felt.

It wasn’t worth the feeling that I was now living behind a large rock wall, thirty feet high, waiting for flaming balls of mud to be lobbed upon me at any time. Or constantly gathering up mud inside my own yard to lob back.

My brain hurt. My head hurt. My stomach hurt.

My kids were hurting.

It sucked.

So... when I clearly and irrevocably saw what I was doing, I made the decision to stop.

Whether they did or not, whether they apologized or not, whether they ever understood or not.

I stopped.

And I told myself the truth about my crappy behavior, without justifications, without trying to turn my actions back on them somehow.

I apologized at first to David.

And then, later, when things were better between us, to Carol.

And then, eventually, when my girls seemed old enough to really get it, I apologized to them too.

You’d think that all of that apologizing would make a person feel pretty darned small.

And it did, temporarily.

But that’s what humility does. It makes you small enough so that you can see the error of your ways.

It takes you out of your ego so you can get over yourself.

It gives you a chance to just shut the heck up and take stock of what’s you've created, shame-inducing and all.

When you own your own shit and when you apologize to people -- without any investment about what’s coming to you in return -- without any expectations of what’s going to happen now or how you’ll be perceived as “better” -- magic can happen.

Time and time again, I hear stories of huge turnarounds that occur between warring parties.

A heartfelt apology is made and ice melts. Handshakes are made. Smiles freely given for maybe the first time ever.

Maybe not immediately, but sometimes... eventually....

I firmly believe, though it sounds all new-agey to say, that you change the energetic field between you and the other person. You stop the tension, the pushing and pulling. The space opens up between you for something new to be created, even if there’s no way to anticipate what that might be.

It still happens.

Based on my own experiences, I recommend that the exes start with each other, in particular. It’s often the leftover angst and anger between them that can really fuel the competition between the women -- and all the offenses that come along with that.

When you own your own shit, it's true: you may not make one single thing happen as far as changing the other person’s behavior.

And you have to be willing to accept that.

But you will feel a MILLION times better about yourself and your own sense of integrity.

And you will be giving your children an AWESOME gift to emulate themselves one day.

You will have stopped leaking your self-pity and vengeance all over them, when they're just trying to be kids, doing their kid thing.

You will be showing them what's possible when the two people who brought them into this world put down their weapons and say they're sorry... and maybe cry for the chaos they've wrought.

You'll make it okay for them to love their stepmom, like they should be able to, since she likely loves them.

You'll show them what it's like when all the adults create something new and wonderful out of a weird and awkward situation.

And then truly, even though their lives may have exploded with the dissolution of their original family, you'll show them that life really can be okay -- and new bonds will form that they can lean on for the rest of their lives.

Won't you try it... and see?

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

 

A Challenge: Just Meet Her!

(Audrey S. [mom] and Gina W. [stepmom] on Mother's Day with their children.)

(Audrey S. [mom] and Gina W. [stepmom] on Mother's Day with their children.)

"The problem of the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small."
     -Mother Theresa

Our old grievances can change in an instant when we simply open to the other... and listen.

WHAT IF... the divorced mom or stepmom is just as baffled by you—as you are by her?

WHAT IF... you have more in common than you realize?

WHAT IF... her actions towards you are nowhere near as deliberate as you assume them to be—or vice-versa?

WHAT IF... you could erase years of accumulated tension and resentment with her in one short moment?

WHAT IF... she’s open to forming a connection with you—and that evokes the same in you?

Curious?

Perfect!

Because we invite you to meet the stepmom or ex-wife in your life this month during our “Just Meet Her!” challenge.

The purpose?

To see each other as human. That’s it. That’s your only goal. No hashing out of issues. No point-scoring. No validating past wounds.

Just meeting her, face-to-face, for coffee or tea.

If you've already had a few pleasant, respectful communications with her (by email, phone or in person), then this challenge is for you!

If you are in an actively high-conflict situation, then meet with another person who shares her role as a mom or stepmom.

Our challenge was inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s beautiful and thought-provoking TED video “Take the Other to Lunch,” where she meets with someone who is seemingly her political opposite, only to discover that they both feel judged and misunderstood, and yet are still capable of building trust between them.

(video timeline notes)

  • Early background about her two conflicting selves: 0:01-1:54
  • What we miss by thinking we know it all: 1:54
  • How we so easily "demonize" each other: 4:35
  • Describing the initiative:  5:46
  • Her lunch and the guidelines she used:  7:06
  • Insights about her lunch:  8:25
  • Who should YOU take to lunch? What can you expect? 10:00-11:00

One of the fastest, most powerful ways to change this relationship is also one of the scariest.

Suddenly, you are two fallible, vulnerable people.

Both winging it.

Both at times hurt and confused by how difficult these roles are...

As Lesser said, it's "--two people, dropping their weapons... dropping the pretense of being know-it-alls..."

Surely you can bring yourself to, as Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project suggests, deliberately suffer for 15 minutes for the good of humanity.

Or in this case, thirty.

What might your first steps be?

Here are the guidelines.

If you’re meeting with YOUR other, ask each other:

  • Describe a silly phobia you have.
  • Tell me about a happy childhood memory.
  • What's a favorite movie, song, book or TV show?

If you’re meeting with AN other, ask each other:

  • What have you always wanted to ask someone from the other side?
  • What are some of the biggest fears stepmoms or moms have?
  • What are some of the biggest hopes of moms or stepmoms?

General Guidelines:

  • meet for a min. of 30 minutes
  • meet in a neutral location, such as a coffee shop or park
  • don’t persuade, defend or interrupt
  • avoid volatile topics, such as family, conflict-loaded situations, etc.
  • be curious, be conversational and be real... listen
  • meet for a maximum of 45 minutes and then end it, even if it’s going well

Communicate with us and your friends here on NOTB (or on Facebook):

Let us know your plan to meet and when.

Let us know how your meeting went!

If you are worried or nervous before your meeting, come to us for support. And then come to us after too, to decompress and process your experience.

We know our readers are some of the bravest, ballsiest women out there.

So show us what you got!

We’ll all be cheering you on....

And we just might start a revolution that snowballs into something really big!

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there...

- Rumi

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Painful stereotype, meet reality!

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Over the weekend, we learned a valuable lesson.

Jenna shared a link to an article on our Facebook page (our group has since been closed) that she thought might be potentially inflammatory, but also stimulate an interesting discussion -- given the fact that some stepmoms do indeed wrestle with this kind of behavior with the mom in their lives.

All hell broke loose!

I watched in horror as both moms and stepmoms sought to defend themselves against common stereotypes associated with each side.

Yes! Moms can definitely be like this!

No! It’s unfair that these assumptions are made, when there’s a perfectly good reason for some of this behavior.

The heat of the comments really made me think....

Why are these stereotypes so dangerous?

And so painful?

Think about it: stereotypes exist for a seemingly good reason.

They’re a way to size up a population that’s different, a population you may even fear.

They’re a way to separate yourself, to reinforce your chosen identity and say, “That’s not me. That’s not how I would have handled that situation/challenge/problem, etc....”

We reject the negative qualities we see in others. We push back against unwanted behavior we don’t condone and can barely understand.

Think about all those lazy, neglectful mothers out there.

Or the self-absorbed, cold-hearted stepmoms.

And there’s plenty more where that came from!

Crazy, irrational, control freak moms who must still be carrying a torch for their exes, blind to the ways they’re dragging the kids through the mud and ruining them for life.

Competitive, passive-aggressive stepmoms with a martyr complex, bent on squeezing the kids out of the picture so they can have Dad all to themselves, or themselves and their kids.

Obviously, we’re so much better than those other people....

But when we buy into the stereotypes, we lose two important things.

The truth of what’s really actually going on!

And the chance to learn from someone who’s not like you.

That was the danger in that article.

It fueled more of a separation between all of us. Between the side that was so clearly “right” and the side that was being victimized in a lop-sided characterization.

And all of a sudden, all the GOOD in the other side seemed to be canceled out, in one fell swoop.

One of the best parts about our community is we each offer a glimpse inside “the enemy’s camp,” in an effort to help the other side UNDERSTAND...

What might be fueling that other person’s difficult behavior?

Is it the pain of seeing someone they love in pain? Grieving a loss that’s knocked them off their feet? Jealousy? Protecting someone dear? Feeling hurt and betrayed? Lost and powerless?

Show me one person in your life who doesn’t occasionally act like an idiot or a total pain in the ass when they’re struggling!

When you’re having a hard time, your attention turns INWARD. You focus on the problem, the issue, your discomfort.

This inward focus puts you out of sync with your external environment.

You miss cues from other people. You respond from habit or old, unresolved issues in your past. You may become rigid in your behavior. You probably overreact to simple things.

Fine!, you say.

So you can understand the other woman overreacting every once and a while. But years? Maddening crap for years??!

Yes. It happens.

Do you see how hard it is for all of us to navigate these relationships? To continually adjust?

We are ALL bumbling along in these dual-family relationships. We’re the guinea pigs. We’re writing the two-family playbook right now, as we make our mistakes....

We’re all trying to find our place.

To be seen and respected.

To belong.

To be safe.

To be loved.

No one’s got a leg up.

Really.

So try this next time you’re frustrated with the other woman....

Ask yourself, what might make ME act like this? What would have to be going on with ME to push me to this type of behavior?

Haven’t you ever gone off the cliff in your life? Acted in a way that filled you with regret and dismay later? Ever watched yourself act like an out of control child from afar, absolutely horrified?

There's a real, live human being behind each stereotype...

What are some stereotypes you now know not to be true about stepmoms or divorced moms?

And how did you arrive at this insight?

We want to hear from YOU!

 

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

Moms: you are the crux

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At 46, I’m certainly not one of the greatest rock climbers around, but it’s a obsession I truly love that has changed me on many levels. Just like any sport that attracts die-hard followers, it has its own lingo and insider terminology.

“Beta” are the tips and inside scoop to help you successfully complete a route. If you want to challenge yourself a bit more, you can tell your friends, “No beta please, let me figure it out by myself.” To "dyno" is to actually jump and leave all contact with the rock for one or two brief, but terrifying seconds, as you hurl yourself to the next hold (hopefully).

One of my favorites is “crux,” which means the hardest part of the climb that’s most likely to throw you off the wall like a bucking horse. The crux will likely put you in a place where you think for a few seconds, This is impossible! Or Now I’m going to fall for sure! Or maybe even, I so suck at this stuff....

But when you get through the crux, when you hang in there, even though your forearms are burning and your legs are starting to quiver in an excellent imitation of a sewing machine for just. one. more. second -- even though your fingers are beginning to melt and you know they’re going to fail at any moment -- well, that’s when you feel your best.

It’s amazing. Euphoric. And addictive.

After that, the rest of the climb seems like a cakewalk (mostly).

One of my favorite parts about climbing is the camaraderie you find with friends, new and old. Because of the risks inherent in climbing stories off the ground, because of the fears you are all facing about yourself and your (lack of) abilities, you really end up bonding with your climbing buddies. You're putting your life in their hands and they're doing the same. We cheer each other on constantly.

I’d like to play around with the word crux here, because it has a double meaning. The dictionary defines "crux" this way:

a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point

or

something that torments by its puzzling nature; a perplexing difficulty

Back when Carol and I didn’t know each other and we avoided each other like the plague, I felt completely justified in blowing her off. I thought, “Who cares about making it work with her? Screw it. I didn’t ask her to be a part of my kids’ lives. They have two parents already. I’ll be damned if I’m going to make any room for her in our family, split up though it may be. I’m not going to bend over backwards to make life any easier for her, especially if I sense even the tiniest bit of competition from her.”

And there the situation stayed for several years.

I had my own angst to deal with whenever my kids traveled back and forth between houses during the weekends. There were the typical mishaps and misunderstandings. I thought I had enough shit on my own to handle as a single mom, but one day I was set on a path I never could have foreseen.

I saw something in my children’s faces that chilled me. They had just come back from a weekend with their dad and Carol, their stepmom, and they just looked... so... sad.

And strained.

It was as if they were being asked to carry a burden that was way too big for their tiny, little selves. Something that was beyond their understanding or ability to work through emotionally, like adults. They had to segment themselves, like pieces of an orange.

This was life at mom’s house. / And this was life at Dad’s.

Two separate worlds, with a barbed-wire fence down the middle.

It just killed me.

They were going to keep on accepting this reality (what other choice did they have?) like dutiful, miniature donkeys trudging up a hill. I think just knowing this is what made me snap.

Things had to change. This state of affairs could not go on. The problem-solver in me looked around at the external circumstances to see what could be adjusted, like moving furniture. Hmmm, nothing of any value.

The answer was internal. I would have to change the dynamic between our houses. I would have to figure out a way to dissolve the distance, or at least greatly reduce it. I would have to find a way to create a connection, create an even purely logistical, practical sense of partnership with their stepmom, because she spent a lot of time with the girls and did much of the hands-on stuff with them.

The very thought made my stomach clench up with fear.

Moms, did you know that about 75-85% of our readers are stepmoms? They are the ones who comment the most. Who post the most about their attempts to reach out to the mom, only to be rebuffed time and time again.

Are you turning away from the stepmom, as I once did?

You are the crux of the matter here.... In many ways, you are the key to this whole relationship even working at all. Or not.

How well do you know the stepmom? If you don't, why not?

When moms set aside their justifications for increasing the separation between the households, it’s like the damn breaking in a strong river. The current can flow. Wounds can heal. Family nests can be remade. Please think about it. And next time, look a little deeper into your children's faces when they come back from a weekend visit, or when you bicker with the other household.

What do you see?.

© 2011   Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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The dangers of certainty

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We have an interesting opportunity to learn something, after what happened in Arizona on Saturday.

As many of you know by now, 6 people were tragically killed (including a nine-year old girl born on 9/11) and 13 were critically injured when a 22 year-old man opened fire at Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s “Congress on Your Corner” meeting at a local supermarket. She was shot point-blank in the head and is still in critical condition, as of this writing. I do not know the medical status of the other injured parties.

I’m saying prayers for the families and friends of all those who were killed or wounded and I hope you will too.

I’d also like to invite you to think about something...

and to listen to a little story that’s somewhat scary for me to tell....

But first, already, when you take note of the word “Democrat” in that second paragraph, something starts happening in your brain, doesn’t it? Wherever you happen to be on the political spectrum, that word, that political distinction, means somethingto you, even if you’re not an American.

It stands for certain qualities or values that you either assign to yourself -- or reject as standing for something you’re not.

You either go, Yes, that’s me, and maybe get a hint of something that feels good, such as validation, or a memory where your beliefs made a positive difference in the lives of others.

Maybe there’s also self-righteousness, or indignation, or anger.

Or else you go, Nope, that’s not me and get the same feelings (read through them again and see).

There has been a lot of discussion this weekend about the toxic nature of our political discourse here in the United States. I believe that same toxicity is reflected in our dual-family relationships as well.

It’s gotten pretty ugly on both fronts, because we constantly feel the need to define and identify who we are -- and who we refuse to be.

Democratic liberals are weak, lazy, bleeding hearts. Conservative Republicans are greedy, selfish, money hoarders. Democratic liberals are generous and kind-hearted and care about elevating the common good of all. Conservative Republicans are hard-working and self-reliant and contribute to a better world by propelling the economy forward.

(No matter what country you live in, you also have political parties that represent similar aspects of your character.)

Do you see how you want to identify with one side or the other?

Me too.

But something very troubling is happening to our global society and we’ve got to do something about it.

Take a look online at any public forum (comments on YouTube, message boards on any topic) and you will see rudeness, insults, and a level of mean-spiritedness that is truly shocking.

Don’t you often find yourself thinking, How can people actually speak like this to each other?!

And where ARE all these people? Surely they’re not acting like this in real-life?

Is this who we REALLY are when our identity is hidden and anonymous?

So what’s going on here?

This is how I think this happens....

When we over-identify with one perspective, our big-picture vision shrinks.

We lose our ability to see nuances, shades of gray, to see the truth of polar opposites in a situation. Life is complex and subject to constant change, but we begin to insist that it not be.

Because of our passionate attachment to our beliefs, our emotions become heightened.

Our thoughts and feelings become sensitized to input and we overreact to triggers.

We act as if others have disagreed with us or acted contrarily ON PURPOSE, just to make us angry or offend us.

We stop seeing the other side as human, with fears and needs that are just as messy and unpredictable as ours.

We start demanding that they see things the way we do, or risk being WRONG.

Maybe this wouldn’t normally be such a big deal, but here’s where it starts to get dangerous:

When we dehumanize others, our standards for our own behavior drop.

We cut ourselves slack for speaking or behaving without respect. We rationalize how the other side “deserves it.” We keep the focus on their unacceptable, “Oh-my-god, you wouldn’t believe _____!” actions, repeat our stories to sympathetic listeners, and conveniently avoid examining ourselves.

We ignore the mistakes we’ve already made, our habitual shortcomings, our ignorance, our contributions to the problem.

This switch, this transference of our focus happens so quickly and automatically that we don’t even see it, much less catch it.

And the intensity of our emotions makes our viewpoint feel so real and so right that we don't have the motivation to question the situation anyway.

Do you see how your political identity, and the means you use to defend it in your mind and in your speech, reflects some of the same problems you may be having with the other household?

There’s a lot at stake in the world these days - economic struggles, jobs, issues of war and survival. We look to our chosen political parties as one way out of uncertainty - as one small means of gaining some semblance of control, some kind of positive movement forward.

The “other side” is a threat to all that.

By the same token, there’s a lot at stake in our families. Our relationships and bonds with the children. Our feeling of safety and stability in our homes, places we yearn to infuse with love and belonging and growth and joy. The sanctity of our romantic relationships. Financial and legal issues.

What do you do when what you care about and identify with feels threatened?

Where are you striking back and losing a sense of the other side as human?

I steer clear of talking politics here for obvious reasons, but here’s a raw, personal story for you to illustrate my point.

When the shooting first happened on Saturday, I immediately thought of all the phrases and expressions I’d heard certain political pundits use; the language of violence and smugness, of suspicion, aggression and the joy of domination.

That kind of language gets attention. On a marketing level, it “works” because it gets people riled up and invested.

But it’s alarmed and worried me in the past, and now, I was horrified and saddened by what had happened to these innocent people, including several elderly folks and a child. I wanted to blame it on someone, aside from the apparently crazy young man.

Part of me felt happy that these political personalities were finally going to get busted and be held accountable for their reckless, baiting invective. Considering this possibility gave me a certain comforting frisson of right and wrong. Of good and bad. Of temporary justice.

I went online to certain political sites and got a hit of self-righteousness as I saw others agreeing with me. I saw both “sides” interacting with each other in the comments section, trying to prove their points by utilizing “facts” that supported their argument.

After a while of obsessive reading, staying up way too late, continually searching for that one culminating point that would finally make things feel settled inside me, I finally started to feel a little sick.

Guilt and shame hovered around the edges of my consciousness, reprimanding me for feeling gleeful and victorious whenever I read an online salvo that seemed to hit its mark... in the midst of tragedy.

I finally had to ask myself:

What the hell was I doing -- and why?

Mentally and emotionally (I wasn’t posting, just reading), I was duplicating exactly the same phenomenon that everyone else was bitching and moaning about: making the other side wrong. Blaming them. Wanting to convince them it was their fault. Seeing them as “less than,” as stupid and uninformed. Seeing myself as superior and clearly, so obviously, right.

I was contributing to that same kind of sick discourse that I was so self-righteously condemning, sitting in my safe, little room at home.

That’s how it happens.

And it was all too easy to flit from site to site, getting one dose after another of reinforcement for my lop-sided, hateful perspective.

Because that what it was. Hateful.

We like to tell ourselves that hate is a strong emotion reserved only for OTHER people with sworn enemies, or for those who are capable of gunning someone down, but I would like to suggest that hate also has much subtler and quieter manifestations. It's easier for us to go there than we realize.

Collectively, we have gotten our nation -- and our families -- into a pretty deep hole, where the shit is flying fast and furious above our heads.

Isn't it time for us each to look within our hearts and figure out how each and every one of us is adding to it?

And to stop?

Let’s ask ourselves some questions.

Questions are always good in the middle of a mess, don’t you think?

So... for you:

What do we want for ourselves as a country, full of opposing, but equally impassioned viewpoints?

As a planet where our nations are intimately tied to each other, reliant on each other for peace, for financial prosperity, for help from each other when a crisis strikes?

What do we want for our families? For ourselves, living day to day, interacting with each other in this land of divorce and remarriage?

For our children, who look to us to guide them when it comes to handling conflict and challenges in life -- and to protect them from not only the lies of others, but trust us to see and dismantle the lies we tell ourselves?

I hope you will reach deep down and bring the best of yourself to your life, your political identity, and your family - no matter how “wrong” the other side is.

I hope you will find a new willingness inside yourself to stop your automatic patterns of assigning blame and probe deeper for the poisonous roots of conflict, so that you can heal them with honesty and bravery.

I hope the people injured in Saturday's shooting will be alright, including stepmom Gabrielle Gifford.

I hope you will show your children -- whether they’re “yours” or “someone else’s” -- that we are capable of so much more than the cold comfort of being right.

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up

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For a while there, whenever our dual-family family was ironing out some major issues—like which kid was living where, and for how long—we'd have these really intense family meetings.

We'd all sit around the kitchen table after dinner, or in the living room, half of us sprawled on the floor... and we'd talk.

One of the adults would bring up the main issue to handle, and at first, it would seem just like a regular business meeting.

Here are the facts. Here are the problems. Here's what I think we should do....

And then another adult might reasonably respond.

And then that's when the bees would start streaming out of their nest. The bats would pour out of their cave at sunset. The fire ants would bubble up from their mound.

Because, of course, everyone felt the need to chime in on their position.

Depending upon their personality and whether they were an extrovert or an introvert, some of us were (cough) a little more vocal than others.

It would get pretty messy.

And sometimes, voices would be raised.

Occasionally, someone would storm off (only to drift back again).

Luckily, we all seemed to recognize when someone had been quiet for too long; conflicting emotions visible in their face, eager to be expressed, yet fearful of being vulnerable, amping up the volume.

Often, there were tears.

During really stellar meetings, every single person in our stepfamily/single-parent family-family would take their turn and cry, their voice rising with confusion, hurt and anger.

You can imagine how long this all took.

And how tired we all were afterward!

But here's the thing....

It was always such a SURPRISE to hear how others really and truly felt.

Really.

I mean, some of this stuff just seemed to come out of left field.

Like, Really? That's what was going on with you? That's what you thought I meant? That's why you were doing and saying this? Because of this other thing that I had no idea about?!

Which is kind of pathetic, in a way....

Why weren't we paying better attention to each other! To all the hidden clues in words and behavior? To facial expressions and little dropped hints? To conversations skirted around?

EVERY TIME we had one of our awkward and tumultuous family-family meetings, we'd get to this point where I'm SURE we all thought, Oh crap. We've really done it now. One, or two, or even ALL of us have dropped so many bombs here that we FOR SURE have blown up whatever connections existed between us before.

We've gone too far.

We've broken this.

We are screwed.

And I know I wasn't the only one who felt this sense of sheer terror, this sense of fear and brain-scrambled, mental overwhelm, this ache in my stomach—like we were a bunch of kids playing with live dynamite in a remote fort tucked into a hill.

Who would find us when it all went off and the ground collapsed over our heads, burying us alive? And why in the world were we doing all this without the help of a trained counselor, a therapist, like normal people???

Somehow though... somehow... we'd keep going. We'd keep talking. Keep cajoling. Keep asking questions.

Keep listening.

And after so many verbal and emotional expulsions (the only word that seems to describe how it felt), something else would finally be detectable in the air.

Hope.... We sensed ourselves actively moving to a better place.

Respect.... For each other and our struggles, our pain.

Resolve.... To treat each other better. To pay closer attention. To do the right thing, even if it was hard.

Awe.... For being able to do this with each other, for being brave enough to look at the raw sloppiness of our inner selves, the stuff we normally hide from others - and show it.

Love.... For each other, for our vulnerabilities, our fears, our tender spots, even for our known and vehemently-denied handicaps.

And finally... gratitude. That we have managed to create something so fragile and beautiful, and yet also strong enough to bear the weight of each other.

Our family-family meetings always revealed the truth of things in all their messy, bumbling glory, in the end.

And with that truth came a new understanding of what was important to each of us... the breakable parts of each other that we must treat with extra care... what our new choices now were for moving forward.

We may not have left those meetings knowing exactly what was going to happen, but it was the clarifying light of that chaotic, but cathartic truth that let the right things unfold in the future, and those problems always ended up eventually "going away."

I can't even remember what most of them were now!

So.... I ask you:

In what ways do YOU feel like you don't understand the truth of other people in your family-family?

What do you think you might be missing?

What do you feel is being kept from you?

What are YOU not telling others when it comes to things you are hurt or angry about?

In what ways might you be blind to some of the biggest priorities and fears of others?

(I love learning about these hidden forces at work in our dual families, so this week, I'll be announcing a new course to share what I know, and to help you create more understanding in your own “family-family” for the new year ahead—even if things are really tough. You’ll have a chance to pre-register soon.)

What are your thoughts? I want to hear from you!!!

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

Thanksgiving Day Tango Tips, Part 4

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One very easy way to increase your feelings of gratitude is to TAKE CARE OF YOUR BLESSINGS. So often, we take for granted the things that are working well and assume they will always be there. Kids that still reach out. A reliable partner. Your job. Your health. The place you live. Your car. Friends and family you never get to see. Peace in your country. Nature doing her thing year after year.

We're all blessed in so many ways.

The simple fact that you're reading this post on a computer already means you have more options than most people on the planet!

So tend to your blessings. Polish them. Feed them. Dote on them. Make time for them.

Make them shine....

This will actually make the things and people you cherish seem ten times bigger.

It's so easy to keep our constant focus on what we want, the things that aren't working. That seems to be our default mode, perhaps a remnant of an age-old survival mentality that no longer serves us well.

Look at all the luxuries you're already surrounded by, the bounty, the stability of all the things that DO work in your life -- and vow to yourself that you will give thanks for them every day, not just on this one.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful, bonding, delicious day, filled with love, laughter and eventual lounging.

(And a secret celebration for the blog: this makes our 200th post! The perfect day for an anniversary....)

You'll find part 1, part 2 and part 3 here.

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine        All Rights Reserved

Which boat are you in?

Many of you come to this site because you’re looking for information that might give you an advantage with your difficult mom/stepmom relationship. You want something extra to help you create a shift. Movement in the right direction. A breakthrough out of nowhere.

You’re the only one who knows what it’s like in your particular situation.

If you’re like most people though, you’ve got a razor-sharp sense of how things stack up on the scoreboard. Who’s done what to whom. How you were justified in reacting to various offenses.

But what about when it comes to the potential for real change -- how do you know what to do? Which direction to go?

There are two possible boats you might be in if you’re struggling with the stepmom or ex-wife. So I’ll ask you:

Is this woman crazy and dangerous?

Or is she normal enough that you might one day get somewhere?

Which boat do think you’re in?

The one where you’re both basically “normal,” but having a hard time?

Or the one where she’s damaging the kids because she’s abusing drugs or alcohol, compulsively lies, maybe has a diagnosable personality disorder, and is actively alienating the children from you, even though it’s destroying them in the process?

Sounds obvious enough, right?

But here’s where this gets tricky.

When people attack us, when they hurt our feelings, snub us, do things that piss us off, when they do something with the kids that we strongly disagree with, we almost always put them in the second boat.

We are appalled at their flaws and issues, their behavior. We are offended. The reason they’re capable of acting the way they are must be because there’s something seriously wrong with them. They’ve got major problems.

And sometimes, this is true.

But sometimes... it’s not.

A little story for you.

In the brilliant book, “The Anatomy of Peace,” an Arab and a Jew lead a weekend workshop for the parents of troubled teens who are off on a wilderness retreat.

Yusef, who’s Arab, tells a tale from when he was young and earning a living, begging from Westerners on the streets of Bethlehem. He knew an elderly, blind Jewish beggar named Mordecai from working the same beat.

One day, Mordecai fell and spread his donated coins all over the ground. Not only was he struggling to stand up, his days’ earnings were everywhere.

Yusef’s first impulse was to help Mordecai get up and retrieve his coins.

But in an instant, without even being conscious of it, Yusef thought of all the injustices that the Jews had committed against his people; how angry, bitter and put upon he felt by these circumstances; this choice he had to make.

Instead of helping Mordecai, he quickly walked away.

Not only did Yusef do something unkind, he also betrayed himself in that moment.

He went against what he himself thought was the right thing to do.

Immediately after betraying himself, his mind turned to making Mordecai wrong. Making the situation wrong. Making the pressure he felt to help wrong and unfair.

In less than a second, Mordecai became the enemy.

Do you see how Yusef couldn’t, from that frame of mind, be able to accurately tell which boat Mordecai might be in (friend or foe) to save his life?

Same thing for us when we don’t do a brutally honest, slow-motion replay after a conflict-filled event.

When we can’t tease out our feelings of superiority, self-righteousness, our vindictiveness, our desire to get sympathy from others over our hardships, we lose our mental clarity.

We lose our compassion.

We lose any sense of responsibility.

We turn living, breathing people into objects.

What fascinates me is that millisecond of self-betrayal.

The self-betrayal comes first, then all else just “seems” to automatically follow....

We don’t even realize it’s happened!

We want to get along with the other woman, sometimes from just wanting less stress, more peace, cooperation, etc.

And deep inside us all, we know that our choices, our actions, our conflict-filled relationships after divorce actually hurt and frighten our children.

This knowledge tugs at our hearts and keeps us up at night.

But... something “goes wrong” again with the stepmom or ex-wife, we betray ourselves, and off she goes into the Crazy boat, even if she doesn’t belong there.

So how do you know when she does?

For one thing, it’s strikingly clear. You know it in your gut in no uncertain terms. This feeling is consistent from day-to-day. It never goes away. Those are the special circumstances that need to be taken seriously and managed with professional resources.

The Crazy boat requires stronger boundaries so you can protect your children and step-children. Maybe later, you can lower those boundaries. Maybe not.

The Normal boat is where things actually have the potential to change.

As a human being that’s a constant work in progress, I commit acts of self-betrayal on a daily basis.

How about you?

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

Success Story: Jesica and Mayra

What does it look like when the “bio-mom” and stepmom transform the ex-wife/stepmom relationship from hell? Here, we talk to two women who were formerly at war for years, but have suddenly made a breakthrough into a whole, new world of cooperation and promise. Mayra (the mom) and Jesica (the stepmom) from the D.C. area tell us their story....

What were some of the biggest problems you USED to have with each other?

Mayra: She was doing too much to try and be the "Mommy.” I felt that when I talked to the kids, they would paint a certain picture. They felt pressured to call her mom, because she would get mad if they didn’t.

Instead of approaching the situation in a calm manner, I would yell at my children’s father about her and instantly become aggressive. Another issue as well, as childish as this may sound, was I did not like it when my daughter kissed her on the lips. To me, that’s something only a biological parent should be doing. I hated the feeling I had when I saw that close connection with them, to be honest. I don’t think I was ready to accept that close affection they shared.

I also had issues with the fact that she would do little things to pester me, such as take my daughter’s hair out after I did it, because as the kids told me "She didn’t like it." Little things like that....

Jesica: For me, it was this person trying to tell me what I could and could no longer do with the kids, or alone with the kids, because I wasn’t their parent. Things that I was so used to doing prior to that were being taken away from me. Parental alienation was normal around the kids—it was like a tug of war. Who was going to win the kids over by buying them what they wanted or giving them what they needed? A big problem was them calling me Mommy, or me showing up for school events or doctor’s visits.

What made you think it might be possible for things to change for the better? Were there little things that caught your attention? Big things?

Mayra: I sat down with my children and asked them how they honestly felt about her. I told them I wouldn’t be mad or sad. I needed to know what they felt and that’s when my kids told me, "She’s nice to us, Mom—we like her and love her.” Prior to having that conversation, I felt that she was “making them” scared, to the point that they had no other choice but to like her!

To hear that come from my kids, in their own words, made me realize I needed to put all the crap away and deal with her, to work it out with her. But the biggest sign I saw was when we were all at the kids’ school due to a difficult issue. It was the way we were able to put it all aside, work well in the same room, and not have any conflict.

Jesica: I just want to say first that prior to now, we did have a period in which we got along. I had taken a six-month break from my husband (boyfriend at the time) and she and I started to talk, because I wanted to see the kids. After he and I got back together, we stopped talking. I guess she saw it as a betrayal or something.

This time around, what made me think it was possible was after my husband and I got married recently. (We’ve known each other for 6 years.) She allowed the kids to come to our wedding, which I thought she would try and sabotage, but she didn’t. Then for Easter, they got Easter baskets from our house and took them home, and she told my husband to thank me because they were nice. These were the little signs. Not very big ones, because soon after, it was back to the same old drama.

There was one big turning point and it was on a day in which there was a crisis in my six year-old stepdaughter's school. There was a bully we’d been having issues with almost all year long. I was around the corner when my husband called, so I picked him up, and we met with his ex-wife at the school. Although I'm sure in her head she was wondering why I had to be there, she actually picked up her cup of courage and asked me how I was doing. I was so shocked I said "What?!" and she said, "Come on, okay? I'm trying!" I turned beet red in shock.

From there, I knew there might be a possibility we could make this work. As long as it didn’t just last for that one day! They say sometimes tragedy can bring people together. I think here that statement rings true.

How did you reach out to the other woman? Were you scared? Was she (from what you could tell)?

Mayra: I reached out at the school. It was awkward being there and talking to their dad and completely ignoring her, so I sucked it up and genuinely asked her, “How’re you doing?” and from there the conversation flowed.. She was shocked at first, I could tell. She asked me, "What?" and I replied "Look, I’m trying....”

Jesica: Although she doesn't know it, I reached out by buying your book. I was scared as to how she would receive it. (In the beginning of the book, it talks about how both sides are jealous and sad and feel like we are in mourning. These were the things that I was sure she would find hard to admit to anyone or even herself!) So I had my husband pretend as though he was buying it for her as a Mother's Day gift, and he told her that he had bought me one too. I thought she would throw it away or toss it somewhere, but never actually read it.

I feel as though I’ve always been the one more willing to try and work things out, but I do think she was scared to speak to me. Maybe “scared” is the wrong word—let’s say nervous. She and I have a lot in common and our faces are pretty easy to read. She was beet red too when she asked me how I was doing. That is how I knew she was being sincere. Had it been a cold and careless question, she wouldn’t have looked nervous or been blushing when she spoke to me.

What do you think made her willing to meet you halfway?

Mayra: Being honest, I think that she was willing to meet me half way a long time ago. It was me who wasn’t willing to try.... I like to do things on my own time, not on anyone else’s. So I guess when I was finally willing to meet her halfway, she had been ready.

It seems that ever since that day, we’ve been on the same page and are trying to work with each other, not against each other. We’re willing to compromise some of our wants in order to move forward.... We stopped being selfish!

Jesica: Honestly, I think it's just been so long that we were both tired. Tired of hating each other and nit-picking at everything! It's exhausting! For the past several years, we’ve been doing it with a passion to the point that I found ways to bring her up everyday.

Even when the kids weren’t around, I thought of different things to bring up and I'm sure it was the same on her side. My husband got tired of it. I got tired of it. I got depressed about it. (I’ve never been to a doctor to confirm this, but I know I was.)

I got tired of seeing how the kids were changing in a negative way. I could tell that they were more sensitive, and less eager to keep going back and forth across the battle lines. I think she finally hit a point where she realized that what she was doing was not benefiting the kids either—and she was over it. When we first started our feud, I was 19-20, and she was 22-23. We’re older and more mature now. All in all, most of what made us change has to do with the kids.

Were there any mistakes you were making before that you're willing to admit that kept this from happening?

Jesica: Yes. I constantly threw it in her face that she was gone for a period of time and wasn’t consistently in their lives. What I said to her were truths, but I didn't have to throw them in her face. I constantly reminded her of why the kids loved me and what I did for them that she never did, or could never do because it was too late (for example, potty- training my stepdaughter). I told her that my house was my house and our rules are our rules. It could have been said in a better manner.

The kids would constantly tell us things like, “Mommy said _____,” and I would just say “Well, tell Mommy I don’t care,” or something of that nature. I should’ve just kept my comments to myself, or to my husband. I would do things that a mother would do, but I never consulted her about it, only with my husband.

Mayra: I can admit I let my anger and insecurity blind me from moving forward. I was scared that the kids would like her more than me. I learned that they love her and like her, but I am Mommy and will always be Mommy in their life and no one can take that special bond from me and my kids..... I have learned to share them instead of being selfish and possessive. One can never go wrong with so much love!

How are things between you now?

Mayra: Things are great and peaceful..... There is no more of "that Effin Bitch" flying around. And no anger.... It feels awesome to have an extra partner in our lives to help raise the kids.

Jesica: Things are great right now. The kids are constantly bringing up how we are getting along and how happy they are about it.

We actually spent time together for the first time this past Friday with the kids—she, my husband and I. We went and got my stepson's hair cut. She and I were there before he arrived. We were talking and laughing and we felt a little awkward, but it will get easier with time.

We’ve been texting and communicating as well. We haven’t just been brushing it off as if this is some easy task. She and I have talked a little about the kids, and how she and I feel about speaking with each other. It has been said that we need to make it work this time and make it last. We both agree no one is going anywhere and that the more love the kids get, the better.

She and I agreed that we need to talk things out and make things happen. We both even admitted that we feel happier now. I feel a huge weight off my shoulders and the anxiety is almost gone.

My only concerns now are that we try not to let small things get in the way and let our emotions run wild. I’m actually doing things with her in mind, so that I don’t offend her, and I can only say I’m hoping she’s doing the same. :-)

Are there any things that you're looking forward to more, now that you've begun to heal your relationship?

Mayra: I look forward to a lot of things. Trips at school, trips out of school and birthday parties and holidays together. Even time with her, hanging out as adults.... We were friends at one point and I’d like to gain that back.

Jesica: I am looking forward to sharing BIRTHDAYS! It used to be so sad when a birthday would fall on her day and we wouldn’t see them. I cannot wait to finally be able to have a birthday party for the kids and not worry about her being there, or vice-versa. We have yet to throw them a party because of it.

I look forward to maybe in the future taking field trips together and hanging out by ourselves, without the kids. (Yes I can see us getting there. Like I said before, she and I actually do have a lot of things in common.)

I also look forward to doing “future firsts” with the kids and not having the stress of them feeling like they have to choose who they talk to—or don’t. I’m looking forward to the kids being happy. The End!

One question for Mayra only....

In many ways, the power to create a cooperative mom/stepmom relationship lies with the mom, because she has so much authority as the mother of the children. In your opinion, why aren't more moms willing to make it work with the stepmoms? Mayra: I think that moms are not willing to work it out because they are afraid and feel like something is being taken away from them. I totally understand that, but ladies, remember: you are their MOM and will always be their MOM and sometimes... sharing is caring!

What advice would you give other moms or stepmoms who are having a hard time?

Mayra: Give it a chance, don’t close the door without trying first. Put aside your personal feelings and pay attention to what your kids want. Sometimes your own feelings will blind you.

Jesica: Part of me honestly thought that she really just was the biggest Bitch!! Your book helps. I can give advice, but every situation is different. Most women run on emotions and put up their walls, waiting for an attack. Mothers are very protective of their children and stepparents are just looking to love the children as well.

My advice is simple. Try not to purposely step on anyone's toes. Communicate. Maybe the other person doesn't know you want to get along. Maybe one or both adults think you are trying to take the kid(s) away from them. What ever the case may be, as hard as it might be: try.

You may even try several times without your attempts being acknowledged, but as long as you try, then there’s a chance. You don't have to be best friends, you don't even have to like each other. You do, however, have to work with each other if you want the kids to be happy.

Ultimately when you see how happy the kids are, you'll realize how much more happy you are. Trust me when I say that the stress and anger and frustration built up in you will go away and you will feel sooo much better—so much, it’s almost indescribable.

Thanks so much, Mayra and Jesica! And we’re happy for you too!

Why I sometimes want to give up too

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Most of our readers are stepmoms. This makes sense to me because it’s the stepmoms who are locked out of the house, waiting outside in the snow.

The dads have a lot of power, because, hey, these are their kids and they get the final say. And the moms certainly have a lot of power because, hey, these children came out of their bodies and they’ll be damned if they’re going to give any of it away to a perfect stranger. Many stepmoms talk about how they just want to give up, after trying so hard to make the relationships work in their own families and between households.

And then there are the poor, hapless kids stuck in the middle, trying to ignore the live grenades bobbing around in the air.

I get it.

It’s hard for everyone.

And yet, I still have this stubborn vision. Call me insane, but I still keep seeing a world in the future where we do things differently after divorce and remarriage.

I can still imagine a way in which we start to tear down these outdated walls, these reactionary expectations about how everyone has to look at the other side like they’re out to get you. Where people get along. Where that’s what’s actually expected of the adults. Where we’ve moved on from the Dark Ages of Family Relationships into a kind of quiet neutrality and, dare I say it, even affection between sides.

I want this so much for all of you I could cry sometimes. I wish you could know in your gut that real change, mind-blowing transformations might be just over the fence, just around the corner, just one magnanimous gesture away.

When two adults get divorced, it’s like they’re walking out of the same house and heading off in separate directions. You go north. I’ll go south.

But when one, or both, of those adults pair up with someone in a new house, they shouldn’t be habitually looking through rifle scopes aimed at the other family! That’s not a loving environment. That’s not a healthy environment. And we damn well wouldn’t want our kids or stepkids living in such a dangerous environment.

But that’s exactly what we’re creating when we just automatically set ourselves against the other household.

And I’m talking to everyone here.

You might say, “Well, we only starting getting pissed off after we had this lunatic come after us! It wasn’t our fault! We only started getting riled up out of self-defense! Really!” ...and in some cases, I will believe you.

I’ve heard enough sad, horrifying, mind-boggling tales of borderline-personality-disordered, narcissistic, substance-abusing, Parental Alienation Poster Child adults to last me a lifetime. It's heartbreaking.

But the VAST majority of us are not dealing with drug addicts or vindictive nutjobs who are hell-bent on ruining the other adults’ lives—and the childrens' in the process.

The vast majority of us, ALL of us, are simply struggling to get by and have some down time and a little fun at the end of a long day, and figure out our relationships, and how to raise a moody child, whether it’s yours or somebody else’s.

The vast majority of us are just regular people with issues and fears and a million things on our to-do list that we will never get to, but for the most part, we’re doing okay.

And in THIS wide swath of a gray area, this middling land of families, there are WAY too many people who are just being lazy.

There, I said it.

We’re being lazy! We’re not willing to look at how we’re feeding the beast of conflict. How we’re fanning the flames and keeping them going. It’s too uncomfortable. We don’t know how. We don’t know “what to do.”

Basically, we are unwilling to own our part until the other side owns theirs first.

And THAT, dear people, is where we’re going wrong. THAT is how you slide from seeing the "bio-mom" or stepmother with a slight distaste based on ignorance (“I can’t really hate her, sinceI barely know her!”), to outright hatred.

A little story for you.....

When Carol the Stepmom first came along (and this was how it felt, like she just suddenly “appeared” by magic in my life, as an announcement from the ex), I figured she was just temporary. Part of this was because of the age difference (she was 14 years younger than my ex and I, which is not uncommon, stepmoms are often younger). Part of this was because I just couldn’t really imagine someone else, someone “new” coming into the picture and STAYING there.

Once I realized she was, or appeared to be, a lot of weird stuff kicked in. I felt extremely helpless, threatened, and uncomfortable. I kept thinking, But WHO IS SHE? Why don’t I get a “say” in whether she’s “allowed” to interact with my kids or not? (Whether rational or not.) In every other arena, I had always had a lot more control over what happened in my children’s lives, and now suddenly, I didn’t.

Something switched on inside me and I turned my discomfort from living in a strange and unfamiliar place of weakness, confusion and flying blind -- and FOCUSED IT ON HER.

I picked her apart in my little brain. I made her wrong. I disliked her. I saw slights were there were none. I started to develop this little ball of cold fury towards her inside myself and it was sickening.

And I made my ex-husband wrong in even more ways than “normal,” back then.

We spent about a year and a half with BOTH of us (Carol and I) being scared of each other, feeling pissy and angry and judged by the other. Of barely being able to interact or speak to each other -- or even look each other in the face, the way you’d look at a stranger on the street!

It was awful. I thank god that life is no longer like that. And my heart goes out to everyone that’s still living that way, because I can still vividly remember how much it sucked.

But here’s the thing, when that “switch” turned on in me, that was the beginning of war.

That’s all it took.

That’s what it looks like.

It’s very simple.

There were no fireworks. There was no yelling. No heated conversations on the phone. No big confrontations or name-calling. No bashing her or my ex in front of the kids.

But it was war nevertheless.

And that’s all it takes for the struggles to begin.

With innocent “miscommunications” on the phone between houses. With disagreements over paltry, or sometimes very large, sums of money. With rigidity and a lack of flexibility over working with the other side when they need it, because doesn’t life always throw you curveballs?

And then the stockpiling kicks in.

You start keeping score of all the times the other side has screwed you over, large or small. You start anticipating being screwed. You “let yourself slide” when it comes to “innocently” screwing them, because you’re tired of always being the better person. It’s exhausting being so noble and fair all the time, isn’t it?

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about all the benefits to be gained by moms and stepmoms getting along, but in many ways, I’m talking to myself.

Why?

Because the people who see themselves at the mercy of the other side have already taken themselves out of the discussion.

Fair enough. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do.

But I ask you this...

Would you want your own children, or future children, to duplicate the kind of life you are living now, war and all?

Because they will.

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

 

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Taming the cobra - Part 3

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Feeling like there’s an enemy in your midst can be really stressful. This is what a lot of stepmoms and ex-wives that are stuck with each other feel like -- there’s someone who’s closely connected to your life that has it out for you.

This “breach” in family life is really nerve-wracking and hard to ignore. Family life is (ideally) supposed to be where you can relax and retreat from the world. Where you’re free to be yourself. Where you feel accepted and connected.

Having the other woman around is like someone peeking in through your window, like a cold draft coming in from under the door, or god forbid, like a leak in the submarine. Not a good feeling!

I showed you a simple exercise that you can do to get back to feeling strong and grounded in part two of this series. If you want to center yourself while you attempt to improve your relationship with the other woman, or if you simply want more ways to bounce back from conflict between the two of you, here are a few more tricks to try:

Watching the ego: Most of us are very invested in how we come across to rest of the world. We don’t want to be seen as weak, clueless, losers. We still feel like that sometimes, but we’re always hoping no one else can see those parts. That investment is based on your ego, a false persona. It’s nothing more than a mirage, because your ego is not you!

Can you step aside, become the watcher, and observe your ego in action? If you can, it’s a lot easier to not feel threatened by someone else’s behavior, even when it’s thoughtless or unkind. You have nothing to defend, because you realize the public persona is not what counts, it’s the YOU behind it.

Being in the present moment: Think of the past, present and future on a single line in front of you. Draw a line with your hands. The present moment is exactly in the middle. Ding! How often are you there? Are you actually living most of your life jumping around, back and forth, leap-frogging over the present moment?

Now imagine that line, traveling through time and space, but with you still doing the same thing. Days pass like this. Months. Years. What do you think about that? The past is gone, it doesn’t exist anymore except in your mind. The future is yet to come, but we sure spend a lot of time anticipating it, don’t we? Especially in negative ways. Being in the moment is wonderfully freeing. So simple, it almost seems impossible that it could be so powerful and healing. And yet... there it is, available to you anytime you need it.

Testing your thoughts: There’s a little hamster living in your brain, running on one of those squeaky exercise wheels. It’s a hamster that can talk, and it’s actually rambling on all day long, deciphering events, giving you a running monologue about yourself, other people, and how the world works.

Is the hamster always telling you the truth? How much of what the hamster says is based on old baggage or actual reality? Sometimes it pays to question the hamster and verify whether what you’re believing is right on--or total baloney. It matters because we ACT on those messages. Make sure your beliefs and actions are heading you in the right direction.

Get some fresh air and your blood flowing: Ahhh, the joys of exercise! For some reason, many of us dread it and put it off, but once we do it, we can’t understand why we ever avoided it. A lot of us are already stuck feeling bad about our bodies, so it feels like exercise is “for other people” or will be for us once we reach some arbitrary weight in the future. Bullshit!

Your body was meant to MOVE, to feel alive, to stretch, to lift, to breathe deeply, to feel strong. When you get your heart pumping and the blood moving, you actually discharge negative emotions. Did you know that? There’s plenty of scientific evidence saying so. Wiggle that stuff out of you and feel better in the process.

Tune into life force/the divine: Whatever your religious beliefs happen to be, you have to admit that it’s pretty miraculous that we’re even alive at all, wouldn’t you say? That you’re unique. That so many of us have lived before us and will (hopefully) live after us too. That we co-exist with this vast and complex menagerie of plants and animals and a mind-blowing profusion of the awe-inspiring geographical features of our planet.

If you don’t believe in God, or even if you do, can you close your eyes and tune into the power of life that animates us all? You may not be as alone as you think you are during tough times. Lean on that for a bit and see how it feels.

Your thoughts?

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Taming the cobra - Part 2

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"Since emotional processes can work faster than the mind, it takes a power stronger than the mind to bend perception, override emotional circuitry, and provide us with intuitive feeling instead. It takes the power of the heart."

-Doc Childre, Founder, Institute of HeartMath

I talked about the importance of increasing your self-esteem in Part 1 of this series. Here's a simple little exercise you can do whenever something--or more accurately--someone throws you off balance and you need to increase your self-confidence. Instead of relying on things improving with the other person first to make you feel better, take back the control for how you feel and give yourself the validation and support you're seeking

Ready?

It goes like this....

Find someplace quiet that you can sit for a few minutes. It doesn't have to be noise-free, but it would be helpful if you felt comfortable enough to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Barring all else, head off to the restroom.

Take three deep breaths, making sure to exhale fully between breaths. If you really push the air out with your muscles, a deep intake is easier.

Focus your attention on your heart. Imagine that you are able to breathe in and out from your heart. This often has the effect of instantly relaxing you.

Find something, someone or a situation to appreciate. Make this easy! If you love touching a beloved pet, then use that. Maybe it's a sunny day where you're outside. Perhaps it's laughing with friends. Whatever you choose, make it something guilt-free and uncomplicated.

Imagine, first, thoughts of appreciation... and then let those thoughts grow into actual feelings of appreciation. Think of all the ways you're grateful to this thing, person or situation and let your feelings of gratitude and appreciation increase, let them snowball, let them build in intensity. Let the feelings of appreciation fill you up completely with lightness and joy. Just keep breathing in and strengthening the feeling.

When you feel nice and full of appreciation, direct your attention to appreciating yourself. Appreciate yourself for who you are, for simply being alive. There's nothing to prove, nothing to do, nothing to fix. Simply be... and appreciate yourself!

This exercise can take a little getting used to at first. You may find pockets of inner resistance here and there, or just generally feel awkward and weird, even sheepish. But if you stick with it, you'll find a wonderfully healing inner warmth and deliciousness that's available whenever you need it.

Spend a few minutes luxuriating in the feeling of loving yourself, of accepting and appreciating yourself. For some people, this experience feels like some kind of miracle. It's like the feeling you get when you're in love, or when your children or family members look at you adoringly, and yet nothing has had to happen for you to feel this way. You're doing all this yourself, by focusing your attention deliberately.

If you like, you can ask your higher self for guidance on how to handle any challenges you are currently facing and see if wisdom or suggestions come to you. This may not come as a booming, clear voice -- it could be a phrase, or a few words. Or... thoughts or ideas may come to you later on during the day.

When you're ready, bring your attention back to the current moment and the physical space you are in.

Use as needed!

You can even touch base with your heart in a general way throughout the day as an emotional touchstone and get a little boost of calm.

More centering techniques coming on Wednesday in Part 3 of Taming the cobra. Part 1 is here.

If you'd like to read more about heart-oriented meditations, check out "The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath's Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart's Intelligence."

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Taming the Cobra – Part 1

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One essential element that needs to be in place when you’re dealing with a high-conflict situation—or trying to change it—is self-love. Okay, so the very phrase is associated with cheesy, new-age-y, navel-gazing or, ha, perhaps an uncomfortable reference to something more private, but how you feel about yourself really does determine how everything else “seems” to go in your life.

It’s too bad we don’t have some kind of public version of a self-love rain gauge that we can all read to show us each other’s levels of self-esteem. Then we might be more apt to depersonalize hurtful behaviors from other people and instead, simply say, “Wow, their self-esteem is really low today: need to be extra nice. Or give them a wide berth. Or put up an extra force field of protection to protect my own....”

We can have high self-esteem in certain areas—and then confound ourselves by repeatedly feeling like a dork in others. Maybe we could all have fancy gauges that measured our sense of self-confidence in different areas: work, financial success, meaningful friendships, parenting, romantic relationships, physical health, being of service... and maybe even one related to old baggage from our childhoods.

Wouldn’t THAT be handy.

It’s all too easy to point the finger at someone else and blame them for making you feel bad when there are problems between you. But what if it’s YOU that’s making you feel bad, from the get-go? What if you already know that you have these particular areas of weakness and sensitivity -- and you’re blaming the other person for feeling lousy instead?

Kind of obscures the path to creating healthy change, huh? You’re saying it’s A, when it’s really B, or maybe Q... or X.

So what about you? How’s your self-love these days?

Coming Monday: a simple technique for boosting your self-esteem that only takes about five minutes a day. And no, it doesn’t involve exercise equipment that says, “As seen on TV!”

I’ll also talk about some other techniques that you can use to put yourself in a good place if you’ve been thrown off balance by something nasty the other woman said or did -- or center yourself if you’re preparing yourself to make some incremental changes in your relationship.

 

© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine           All Rights Reserved

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